Oh, goodness y’all, I need to tell you about DARNEL.
I think any teacher will recognize the FEELING you get in your STOMACH whenever someone utters the name of one of Those Students. The bane of your existence. The kid whose sole purpose in life seems to be to make your classroom experience as torturous as possible.
My first year teaching elementary art, that kid was DARNEL.
So, I was reading a commentary for the Parable of the Weeds, and got to this sentence: “the bearded darnel is a devil of a weed.” Did you catch that? DARNEL. Many scholars think the weed in this parable is DARNEL (sorry I can’t seem to type this name without using all caps).
I’m not gonna lie, when I saw that Darnel was also the name of the Weed of Evil, I indulged in a wee bit of vindicated glee.
A LOT of my time was spent with Darnel. He was a perpetual fixture in detention. Just me and Darnel…at least until the end of the school year, when the State shut down the school.
Like most schools serving primarily Black students, this one was severely underresourced and undervalued. The paint was flaking off the walls. Half the books were held together with rubber bands. Classrooms were overpopulated. I had no art room and no budget for art supplies. The students did not thrive.
The state declared the failure to be that of the school’s, and the children and teachers were all shipped off elsewhere in the district.
I’ve been thinking. All that year, I thought of Darnel as a weed in MY garden. Like the householder in the parable, I would look at Darnel and think “an enemy has done this.”
I had assumed Darnel thought the same about me. And maybe he did, most of the time. I was the interloper, after all. I had come into HIS school. I was on HIS turf. But on the last day of school, that little 8-year old sought me out, bawling and hugging me so tight, refusing to let go.
We had been through a lot together, after all, me and Darnel. And now we were being weeded out.
The Parable of the Weeds is meant to tell us something about the kingdom of heaven. In the story, weeds are growing in a wheat field. The householder instructs his servants not to pull the weeds; that they will be separated at harvest.
What is a weed, but a plant that is not welcome? But we don’t get to decide which plants are welcome and which are not. We are not the householder. This is not our garden.
What is a weed? A plant with no function? Darnel’s extensive root structure keeps soil from eroding. In small doses, Darnel is an intoxicant (woohoo!).
My Darnel was also an intoxicant in small doses. He could be combative, but he was also open, joyful, creative, and smart. He shone brightly.
I think I failed Darnel in thinking of him as a weed amongst the wheat of his classmates. I should have spent that year doing my best to cultivate the depleted soil of their school, trying to create conditions in which ALL the students could grow together.
Instead I was too busy weeding.